A Writing Life

Recently a friend sent me an essay she wrote about the importance writing has meant to her throughout her life. It is a profound and moving testament. The essay, Reflections on the Writing Life, was an address she delivered on the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht and dedicated to Hannah Senesh, a Hungarian Jew, who was murdered by the Nazi’s in 1944 at the age of 23. She begins by quoting Senesh:

“I feel I could not possibly live without writing, even if only for myself, in my diary….A thought that is not put on paper is as if it had never been born. I can only truly grasp a thought when I’ve expressed it in writing.”

I often feel that way. It is one of the reasons I write these posts. I have an idea and I start trying to put it to words and I find the idea isn’t really much of an idea after all. Had I not tried to write about it, it might have lingered in my mind as some kind of a gem. Writing clarifies. Writing corrects. Writing discovers.

In her essay my friend compares writing to music. She hears a rhythm of words in her ear that “chime in my head as I write them down.” I know that feeling. I hear a sentence or a phrase that almost demands to be written.

Sometimes it is only a word and I type it and the rest of the paragraph and every now and then a page will follow almost automatically. It is quick and when I’m done, little in the way of editing seems to be required. That is unlike the usual case when each word or so requires a herculean effort.

Similarly, my friend says: “I listen for harmonies, point-counterpoint, cadences and fluency in the word-music I want to make as I weave word –patterns on the page.”

She reviews the course of her writing life, beginning as a child when she wrote poems, impressions, and the letters to the members of her family. “Letters are our charms against the ache of absence and separation, and the fear of loss.”

Although I have never met her or spoken to her, I have had the good fortune, perhaps even the richest of fortunes, to be one of her correspondents.

She wrote in her journal as if it was another person. It became “my listener, my confidant—a second person, a “you,” my old companero.”

Later in life she turned to academic writing as she pursued her career in sociology while at the same time writing short stories and then sometime later a trilogy of novels. In writing she discovered that one has an inner life and in reading and re-reading our writings, “we come to know ourselves more deeply.”

To write and then put it in the hands of a reader in the various ways there are to do that now is to make it permanent. In her essay, my friend expresses this much better. “To read another’s writing is to keep its light in the world.” If a book or letter is never read, it is as if it is hidden away in a box until it discarded and eventually turns to dust.

You will appreciate the spirit of her essay and why I wanted to write about it by reading its conclusion:

“Let us, People of the Book, go on reading and writing, let us continue the conversation between the generations, let us be keepers of the flame, let us keep their lights in this world as we go on kindling our own beside them.”

The essay was written by Audrey Borenstein, co-founder of the Life Writing Connection (with Olivia Dresher), author of One Journal’s Life: A Meditation on Journal-Keeping, Redeeming the Sin, and other works of short fiction, poetry, and criticism, including The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies, and Evanesce.